Aug 8, 2016   written by John Lamerand

Some people see STEM as the latest fashion in teaching. They are right and they are wrong.

“The last cry” in teaching should be balance and by focusing narrowly on STEM we run the risk of providing an incomplete education. The same goes for the so-called “common core”. 

So what to do about the latest fashion in science and maths education?

We should encourage students to see the creative aspects in science and maths, and for that reason we favour the use of STEAM (with Arts) over STEM. What we are wary of, however, is that in rushing onto the bandwagon every teacher is trying to incorporate STEAM or STEM in some way. The result is often little more than a nod in the direction of this trend. 

A policy analyst in our government sees a laptop and a SPRK and says “That’s it, that is what we will do to satisfy schools’ cravings for something new”. Of course, we understand at the school level, that the last thing we want is yet another set of guidelines and subject names to come to grips with. The last thing we want is massive spending on tools that are next to useless without professional training.

Toys look good in photo opportunities and it is comforting for newspapers to report on what our state is doing (read spending) to bring education into the 21st Century.

What we need, more than anything else, is an understanding that the subjects that we grew up with still matter. History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Geology, Maths, English, LOTE, Fine Art, Drama – these subjects still matter no matter what we call them.

The danger is, if we treat STEAM as a fashion trend, that we will miss a great opportunity to teach and enthuse our students and we may continue to experience declining enrolment in science courses at a tertiary level. There has been a steady decline over the last twenty years in science participation. We need more than just a catchy name for what we will do to reverse this trend.

Finally, the potential for STEAM is somewhat like the potential within a friendship;  it’s not about what one discipline can do for another, it’s what the two disciplines become in each other’s presence. The promise of STEAM education is that subjects that were once treated in separate silos might be allowed to mingle.